A bizarre side road after years of bristling, sweaty rock songs, Préliminaires finds the usually shirtless Iggy Pop in a more introspectively somber mood, dabbling in jazz, swampy blues, and spoken-word covers of old French standards. This is all somewhat mysteriously presented as a musical reaction to Michel Houellebecq’s 2005 novel The Possibility of an Island, though this hardly seems to matter; the important thing is that this influence frees Pop, who claims to be “sick of idiot thugs with guitars banging out crappy music,” from a years-long spiral of increasingly tiresome bilge. Directed at less throbbing material, his persona has an interestingly dissipating effect, as evidenced by the way “Les Feuilles Mortes,” originally made famous by Edith Piaf, withers and transforms under the bitter creak of his voice, which takes to French surprisingly well. At a brief 36 minutes, the album feels like a loose but credible reaction to the novel, using the “inspired by” tag to set up a shakily redolent tone poem that carries over all the requisite feelings of despair. More importantly, it rejuvenates the formerly stagnant Pop, granting him a rustily demented presence not found in his more straightforward work. His reading of a section from the book, “A Machine for Loving,” is effective even for those who haven’t read it, his leathery voice working to fix the mood, which continues its mournful trek via the jazzy funeral march of “King of the Dogs” and the disconcertingly barren “Spanish Coast.” Excursions outside of this atmosphere, like the snarky brio of “Nice to Be Dead,” are less successful. As always, Pop’s lyrics are not something you want to spend too much time focusing on, but separated from the dumb strut of rehashed cock rock, they settle nicely into an eerie landscape of dread and malaise.
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